You’d never guess that weekly newspapers are thriving. If you pay any attention to news about the media, you’ll know that the industry has seen better days.
It’s been a long struggle to recover lost ground after the internet broke the model that once sustained journalism.
These days, experts are predicting the death of the newspapers in the near future.
It’s not like everywhere. In many places weeklies continue to offer quality. They also provide a vital service and are keeping the internet at bay.
Ian Clarke, Sales & Marketing Director with North West Media Group in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, is optimistic about the future. He believes that regional newspapers and media platforms still have viable future. They also have a huge role to play in community life in Northern Ireland and beyond.
Weekly newspapers are thriving
Ian Clarke, the big question is how can you sell people on something from which they are moving away?
News outlets occupy distinct markets. Yes, it’s true that people have turned away from some of the big nationals and regional papers in the U.K., but the weekly newspaper market has many positions of strength.
For a start, no one is providing what we do. We offer hyper-local and in-depth news from across our geographic areas
We give readers news, lifestyle profiles, entertain, sports, features and more. They can’t find this information anywhere else. So it’s a very local environment occupying a strong community market. Weekly newspapers are thriving.
The internet broke the model that sustained newspapers. That was some 20 years ago. What’s it like today for companies such as The North West News Group? How are you able to secure revenue and offer value in such a competitive environment?
We have a distinct and loyal market that relies on The North West News Group for its news and so much more. For us, weekly newspapers are thriving
However, that doesn’t mean that we take our market for granted. Far from it. We work hard to maintain and develop relationships with our readers, businesses, community groups and more.
We’ve been strategic in our approach. The print product contains all the news, sports, features, lifestyle, and advertising that we publish each week. We’ve never put all our content online. That approach makes the print product relevant and sought-after. And, of course, if you do want to read online, you can buy a PDF subscription.
Monetizing intangible assets
Regional newspapers across the U.K. have an impressive range of assets, including reader trust and strong brand presence. Yet it’s been hard to monetize these assets. Why, and can this change?
You’re right – newspapers did have tremendously strong business assets. But they were squandered with the advent of the internet – and mostly through bad decision making
The development of the web heralded trends for which publishers were unprepared. Classified ads disappeared quickly, display ads were under attack, and free content eroded a lucrative subscription based.
For many regional and daily newspapers, the sharp decline in revenue occurred rapidly, meaning staff layoffs, falling share prices and lost circulation.
Lack of proactivity along with bad decision making
Instead of being proactive and developing new business models, a lot of papers clung on to aspects of business that simply weren’t working. For example, The Northern Echo was spread too thinly. Its geographic area was vast, from near Newcastle into Yorkshire. It had an incredible brand but could not provide strong coverage due to fewer staff.
Next, too many papers have put far too much content online. I know that there’s the argument that people won’t pay for content, but if your business model is sound and you are providing value with all of your content, people will pay for the most valuable content
Weekly newspapers haven’t gone down the road of placing all content online. They still have strong markets which are valued and are willing to provide revenue. That’s why weekly newspapers are thriving.
My advice is serve your market well, and don’t lose touch with community.
History a key brand asset
The North West News Group has an impressive history, going all the way back to 1901. What role does this history and longevity play in the company’s success? And can it help sustain the brand?
Our history is extremely relevant and is a key brand asset. When you look at Ireland, the history has changed so much. At times it has been volatile and violent.
When our newspapers began, there was no border, today there is a border. Our papers were here during partition, the Civil War, and ongoing conflict and peaceful times, too.
The newspapers brought stability in very challenging times and provided coverage through all those changes.
I realize that many weekly newspapers around the globe may not have had the history that we have had. But publishers should never forget that history shapes a community and being there, providing consistent coverage, and serving as a record of events is part of the role.
Engagement with our social media followers
The papers in The North West News Group have a strong social media presence. They have impressive numbers of Twitter followers and Facebook fans. How are you using these platforms to drive traffic to your own websites?
We are strategic with our use of social media. We flag up stories and use Twitter feeds to flag up content.
Even though we are weeklies, a breaking story can’t wait. So we use social media to highlight the key points of the piece and then provide more depth on publication day.
We also make a point of being sure to engage our followers. If they have questions or need information, we respond quickly and make sure they have what they need and are happy with our approach.
Finally, our journalists are strong and with their commitment we’ve developed excellent an excellent social media strategy.
U.K. daily press has a limited lifespan
What does the future hold for mainstream news media platforms? Do you see an eventual shift to digital only, or do newspapers have some life left in them yet?
I believe the daily press in the UK – particularly the daily regional press – has a limited lifespan.
Evening titles have abandoned their unique selling points and unique markets to move into the much more heavily congested morning markets. This has accelerated rather than stemmed their sales decline. By and large they seem to have little or no idea how to connect their brands with new audiences.
This is a self-inflicted but in my opinion terminal decline. They’ve done this without really establishing themselves as credible online brands from either a content or commercial perspective. So there’s little medium-term hope for them in print and not a lot more online, given the desperation with which many of them have embraced irrelevant, non-local clickbait.
Local weeklies in the UK are in a stronger position if they’ve maintained decent, credible local content and offer a value for money proposition to readers and advertisers. The strong ones – particularly the privately-owned papers – retain healthy traction and brand loyalty within their markets and decent to strong household penetration levels.
They are slowly but surely augmenting relatively stable circulations with growing web audiences and a better use of social media. These brands will survive well into the medium term if they continue to effectively adapt and evolve.
Advice to new media outlet marketing managers
To young, new marketing managers entering the tough and challenging world of the news media, what words of guidance or advice do you offer?
Understand that this is an industry based around mature brands that present unique but genuinely surmountable challenges.
Learn exactly how your brands are perceived by their maturing audience by speaking to existing and lapsed readers and gain an understanding if what the brands mean to their (by their very nature) geographically limited markets.
Be imaginative and innovative and challenge your editors. Don’t accept either complacency or resignation of defeat. But do not move too quickly for your audience or take their loyalty for granted. That loyalty is more fragile than at any time in the past so consistently reinforce the existing strengths of your brand while gradually augmenting it.
Sales and Marketing Director Ian Clarke
Ian Clarke has served on the senior executive team or board of three of the U.K.’s five top regional newspaper businesses. He has experience managing daily, weekly (paid for and free) and Sunday newspapers/media platforms. He brings a unique mix of advertising, circulation and brand marketing leadership experience to his work.
Ian is regarded as a positive, effective, persuasive, and inspirational leader of change and innovation in the media industry in the U.K. He has a B.A. in Political Science and Government from Queen’s University in Belfast. You can find Ian on Linkedin.